The problem of piracy off Somalia can be contained by purely military means
The US defence department spokesman has contended that “you could have all the navies in the world having all their ships out there, you know, it’s not going to ever solve this problem…It requires a holistic approach from the international community at sea, ashore, with governance, with economic development.”
That’s a fashionable thing to say these days. And it’s true in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where the US armed forces are fighting a counter-insurgency war.
The situation off the Somalian coast is different. A long-running civil war in that country has resulted in anarchy, which in turn has allowed the unchecked growth of sea-borne piracy in the waters off its coast. Piracy can be contained without necessarily having to stabilise Somalia.
It is possible to tackle piracy by purely military means. If the world’s navies devote an adequate amount of assets to the problem, and equip their commanders with the adequate rules of engagement, piracy can be stamped out. For if budding pirates notice that nine out of ten pirates don’t make it back from their first voyage, they might turn to other vocations—perhaps even warlordism and armed robbery on land. While Somalia’s problems won’t go away, they won’t directly threaten the world’s seaborne trade.
Solving Somalia’s problems does need a holistic approach. Solving the piracy problem, however, does not. But the US navy’s reluctance to take a more forceful stand against Somali pirates is intriguing.